While growing up PowerPoint was, for me, a cornerstone of the IT curriculum. At least half of the class had begun playing with far more complex software like Adobe Photoshop and (then) Macromedia Flash, so PowerPoint “lessons” became an exercise in pushing the software to its limits; to see how elaborate, needlessly complex and hilarious the resulting .PPT files could be.
But did you know people still actually use presentation software for work purposes? It’s true! And furthermore, in this age of always-on cloud connectivity, more and more browser-based solutions exist. You don’t even need PowerPoint installed on your PC any more to create your next presentation – and you don’t need to purchase software either.
Here are MakeUseOf’s current picks when it comes to creating PowerPoint-style presentations via your web browser, for free.
Microsoft’s own cloud storage solution comes with a few handy web apps for creating documents in the cloud, including a stripped-down version of PowerPoint. If you sign up today with a standard Microsoft account (the same one you use for Messenger, Hotmail and your Xbox gamertag) then you’ll get 7GB of free storage which you can sync with your Windows 7 or Mac computer using the SkyDrive client, or with Windows 8 which comes with in-built SkyDrive support.
The online version of PowerPoint is definitely lacking in some features, but the core functionality is all there. Plenty of themes are on offer to instantly give your presentation its own style, along with the ability to insert pictures, clip art and smart art. In the current version of the online editor animation options are missing, though Microsoft are currently trialling a new version which beefs up the feature list with animations and more.
It’s not a bad alternative to the desktop version, though during my brief time spent with the app I encountered more errors than I did create slides, with random “Microsoft PowerPoint encountered an error” prompts appearing with no clue as to exactly what had gone wrong. Still, it’s a perfectly usable method of creating basic presentations that you can download and edit with the full-fat desktop version of PowerPoint if that’s your thing. The free cloud storage isn’t a bad deal either.
Google’s own answer to Microsoft Office is Google Docs, a suite of tools that integrates nicely into the recently launched Google Drive, offering 5GB of free storage, though files created in Google’s default Docs format don’t count towards this quota. I personally use Google Drive nearly every day, for every article I write (including this one) and I’ve used their presentation tool in its previous and current versions. It really is leaps and bounds ahead of the (current) SkyDrive web app, and nearly rivals Microsoft’s older desktop versions when it comes to power.
There aren’t as many themes, and Microsoft’s instantly recognisable clip art isn’t there but these are not killer features. The themes that are included do the job perfectly well, and Google has integrated a version of Image Search that finds images that can be used for commercial purposes to replace clipart (and there’s always Clker).
The UI and responsiveness of Google’s attempt is, in my opinion, a lot easier to use even compared to Microsoft’s new beta. Cloud-integration is pretty much tied, with both Google Drive and SkyDrive having their own apps for Windows and Mac, but I’d still choose Google Docs for the improved UI, collaboration, polish and usability.
An established competitor to Google and Microsoft’s free offerings, SlideRocket is a commercial presentation tool with a free option that allows you to sink your teeth into most included features. The editor itself uses Flash, which is my main gripe with SlideRocket – not everyone likes flash, and an increasing number of devices are dropping support particularly in the mobile market.
Still, Flash does come with some benefits – namely the ability to create just about anything the developers wanted in terms of animation, embedding forms, videos and your own Flash content in the form of .SWF/.FLV files. The interface itself looks and feels polished and neatly presents you with a fairly complete set of options.
The animations are actually very nice, and that’s thanks to Flash and its ability to animate fluidly. One major drawback to the free option is an inability to export your finished presentation once you are done. Of course you can display it using your web browser, which is fine but once you’ve filled up your 250MB of free storage then you’ll have to start deleting old projects. There is also no collaboration at all until you pay.
Another big player in the free online software world, Zoho have their own presentation web app called Zoho Show. On first glance it’s actually a very good looking platform, with everything you need laid out neatly in front of you. Each function is spelled out – with words, rather than sitting ambiguously underneath an icon that you have to hover, making it a very user-friendly tool for presentations.
There are only a limited number of themes, but they’re fairly innocuous and applicable for a range of uses. The end result might not be as professional or polished as SlideRocket or Google Docs, but the interface is arguably more approachable for a newcomer than either of those.
Zoho Show doesn’t appear to have any restrictions on file export unlike SlideRocket, and comes as a completely free product with animations, sharing and public publishing options. It might not be quite as pretty as some of the others, but it’s a great product that you can use without missing out on features or being nagged to upgrade.
Also Consider: Prezi
Prezi is on this list as an “also consider” because everything you create with Prezi under a free account is completely public. You must pay in order to make your presentations private, which for many just is not an option. It’s a fair business model, and allows you to try out Prezi’s unique approach to this sort of tool for free, but as a free option it’s quite limited for this reason. On the other hand you can of course peruse the works created by everyone else, which serves as a great demonstration of what Prezi can really do.
Out of this list I’d personally stick with Google Docs, partly because I like the UI and included themes and partly because I’m a heavy user of the service. Microsoft’s web app offerings have yet to wow me, though the updated online version of PowerPoint looks promising; it isn’t quite there yet. Zoho surprised me with a great, easy to use and completely free service and Prezi is a very snazzy service that can do some wonderful things but at a price (or for free, with everything public).
Do you have any favorites when it comes to online presentation creation? Any other Powerpoint alternatives we haven’t mentioned? Are you a strict desktop software junkie? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, below.